Randy Soggs

December 30, 2010 - Randy Soggs named Utica’s economic development head by Utica Mayor David Roefaro.

While it did not last Randy Soggs resigning from city to return to private sector, what might Soggs know about early hospital talks?

Big transition for Utica’s new economic chief

Posted Jan 29, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Updated Jan 29, 2011 at 9:24 AM

Suburbanite. Private developer. Active Republican donor. None of these things changed several weeks ago, when Randy Soggs became one of the area’s most prominent local officials.

Suburbanite. Private developer. Active Republican donor.

None of these things changed several weeks ago, when Randy Soggs became one of the area’s most prominent local officials.

But here’s what’s new: His salary as the Urban and Economic Development commissioner will be paid for with tax dollars, and he will serve at the will of a Democratic mayor in the region’s urban core.

Talk about transition.

“It’s a big learning curve,” Soggs said in an interview in his new City Hall office, decorated with smiling pictures of himself and Republican dignitaries such as Sarah Palin and John McCain.

Soggs was tapped for his new role with the city in late December and began his job Jan. 3.

At a salary of $75,000, he will oversee an embattled department that has been criticized for its role with GroWest Inc., along with recent overturn at several key positions.

So what does he hope to accomplish? Soggs has a list of projects, a plan to hire several more employees and ideas about leveraging the money from various loan programs.

But the point he keeps coming back to is the perception of the office – and how it has to change.

“We don’t want people to think this is a politically motivated office,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re fair and that you can see what we’re doing.”

Asked if he was referring to anything specific in the past, Soggs said he was generalizing over a period of decades. He pointed out more than $140 million has been spent by the office since the 1973, with not nearly enough in return.

The department runs on about $4 million in annual federal funding, which gets stretched out over the city’s entire economic development budget, capital projects, youth and senior activities.

It also funds the salaries for employees in the department.

The department was run until recently by Robert Sullivan, who was demoted in March but remained acting commissioner until Soggs was hired. Two weeks after Soggs was hired, Sullivan and two other top Utica officials were fired.

Soggs said he had nothing to do with that decision.

The donor

Soggs, 44, is a faithful donor to Republican political candidates of all levels, giving more than $40,000 over the last 10 years in federal, state and local races.

That includes contributions to Richard Hanna — who eventually unseated Mayor David Roefaro’s boyhood friend, Michael Arcuri, from the 24th congressional seat — and Timothy Julian when he was running against Roefaro in 2007.

Soggs also has been a member of the New Hartford GOP committee and last year briefly considered running for the 115th District state Assembly seat.

Soggs’ wife, Beth, is a New Hartford school board member and staunch Democrat, he said. She even once hosted a fundraiser for Arcuri in the same week her husband held one for Hanna.

He said, however, that his desire for the Utica job – which he applied for after reading media reports about the search – is motivated by an aspiration for public service, not politics.

“I love what I do,” he said, adding he currently has no political ambitions of his own. “I just want to see if I can’t give back a little bit to the community.”

As evidence, he pointed to his support of Hanna and Julian and said Roefaro ignored those considerations when choosing him.

“Give the guy some credit,” he said. “It’s about doing the right things for the city.”

Early action

Though Soggs is quick to point out that he’s still learning the ins and outs of his job, he has not hesitated to put his mark on the department.

He told staffers last week that he plans to reshuffle their responsibilities and to hire two new employees, a grant administrator and someone to oversee housing programs.

He also made Laura Campion, who was hired for a part-time attorney job to work on civil lawsuits related to GroWest, a full-time employee who will oversee the sub-recipients of grants.

The GroWest situation – which led to the suspension and possible termination of longtime financial administrator James Schlager – led to a report about the agency and the way federal money flows through the city by the law firm J.K. Hage III. Soggs has expressed admiration for that report and said he plans to use it as a guide.

Soggs plans to leverage the money the department has for business loans.

That includes stronger enforcement for the payment of those loans – including potentially taking delinquent loanees to court – and on partnering with private banks to open up a new source of revenue and take advantage of their underwriting standards.

He plans to focus marketing and development efforts on the area near the Thruway exit in North Utica, including Harbor Point, and helping the city’s Industrial Development Agency with selling the downtown Harza Building.

Plans also include partnering with Mohawk Valley EDGE in marketing the former Bossert Manufacturing site in West Utica – which he will rebrand the West Utica Industrial Park – and possibly do the same thing with the Urban Renewal Agency-owned property at the city’s Gateway District.

But despite his ideas, Soggs downplays his importance in getting them done.

“The staff in this office is wonderful,” he said. “It’s an incredibly knowledgeable group of people who don’t get enough credit.”

Roefaro indicated his pleasure with Soggs thus far, complimented his “follow-through, his directness, his connections with so many people throughout the community.”

“If it’s any indication about where we’re headed, we’re going straight to the top,” Roefaro said.

Going public

Soggs is the president and owner of Soggs Property Group in New Hartford, which operates throughout four Central New York counties rehabilitating underperforming properties.

In total, the group manages 1.5 million square feet of space. That includes several Utica properties, including 2007 Beechgrove Place and 122 Business Park Drive in the Utica Business Park.

In the 2009-10 year, Soggs paid the $252,153 in city, county and school property taxes he owed on those properties, according to the comptroller’s office.

He was late on the $17,816 installment of 2010-11 school taxes that was due in December, but paid that installment after being informed of it by an O-D reporter. He called it an “oversight.”

In 2009, Soggs was notified by the state that he faced decertification from the Empire Zone program for the business park property, though he said he had decided to decertify the company voluntarily more than a year before that.

He plans to continue working part-time at his private job – both early in the morning and late at night – while putting in full-time hours at his city job.

Soggs has a master’s degree in business administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a law degree from Albany Law School of Union University. He has served on multiple local boards such as the Mohawk Valley EDGE board of directors and the New Hartford Zoning Board of Appeals.

“He’s somebody who knows how to put projects together,” Mohawk Valley EDGE President Steven DiMeo said.

DiMeo called that a critical skill.

“You’ve got to be able to understand all of the moving parts of the project, when and how to negotiate, and in some cases how to put financial pieces together,” he said. “He has that background.”

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